Why the deluge of complaints from air travelers has resulted in few fines against airlines

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Experts are calling on the agency responsible for enforcing air passenger protection rules to be more aggressive with fines when airlines break those rules.

The quasi-judicial Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has the ability to fine airlines up to $25,000 if they fail to comply with air passenger protection rules that went into effect in 2019. Those rules require an airline to compensate passengers for lost baggage or flight. delays and cancellations that are under the control of the airline.

But earlier this month, the CTA chief told the House of Commons transport committee that the agency has not levied a single fine for failing to compensate passengers.

These are the compensation amounts for flight delays that are under the control of the airline and are not related to safety. The amount depends on how late the passenger arrives at their destination, compared to the arrival time indicated on their original ticket. (cbc)

Tom Oommen, CEO of the CTA’s research and outreach arm, said that instead of fining airlines, the agency has focused on resolving passenger complaints.

“Resolving passenger complaints puts compensation, puts refunds, puts rights in passengers’ pockets,” Oommen told CBC. “Our compliance regime doesn’t do that. The fines do not go to the passengers.”

But the agency is dealing with a backlog of more than 30,000 complaints from passengers who believe they were not adequately compensated.

Ian Jack, a spokesman for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), a nonprofit travel agency, said the accrual provides an incentive for airlines to contest passenger compensation claims.

“It sends a signal to airlines when it takes so long to make a decision that they don’t necessarily have to get it right today. They can afford to wait,” Jack said.

Jack said the CTA should use fines to pressure airlines to follow compensation rules. John Gradek, a professor of aviation management at McGill University, agrees.

“They won’t play because they know that as soon as they start playing, they’re going to get pretty hefty fines,” Gradek said.

The CTA has issued a few fines for violations of the 2019 rules: about two dozen, totaling $171,400. Oommen said the CTA has issued few fines in part because the 2019 rules are relatively new.

According to the penalties listed on the CTA website, most of those fines were for not correctly displaying certain charges when a passenger purchases a ticket, or for not correctly displaying information about compensation rules.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra stands during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, December 1, 2022.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he is looking to strengthen air passenger protection regulations that came into force in 2019. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Some fines have been imposed on airlines for failing to provide food or drinks to passengers during long flight delays, providing inadequate information about delays or cancellations, and failing to respond to passenger compensation requests within the time limit. 30 days required. .

Some airlines have been fined as little as $200 for individual violations.

Oommen said the CTA uses a graduated approach for punishable violations: small fines are issued for early violations, which are doubled for subsequent violations.

Gradek said the agency should impose maximum fines of $25,000 to ensure airlines comply. He said the fines the CTA has handed out so far amount to “a slap on the wrist… a mosquito bite.”

“No one is paying attention to that,” he said.

But Jack said the government should consider changing the rules to allow the CTA to issue even higher fines.

“The CTA at this moment does not have big sticks to threaten people. He has a bunch of little twigs,” she said.

Earlier this month, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he was looking to strengthen air passenger protection rules in response to the travel chaos that occurred over the holidays. The CBC asked his office if that might include giving the CTA the ability to issue higher fines.

“All options are on the table to ensure that what happened during the Sunwing vacation does not happen again,” a statement from his office said.

NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said he would support higher fines.

“We need to take a serious look at how the fines are being used and whether the maximum fines are adequate to serve as a deterrent,” he said.

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